A whirlwind of ancient sights
09/14/2012 - 09/14/2012 84 °F
Delta was actually nice enough to serve bananas for breakfast, but I woke up just in time for them to clear them off our tray tables. I was able to stop the flight attendant in time to save mine, but Kristine's was already gone. She ended up having it, so needless to say, I was starving. By the time we took the 45 minute train into the city, found our hotel, checked in and dropped off our things, it was almost noon. We wasted no time finding the first little cafe we could and sitting down for some breakfast. Believe it or not they had omelettes (but Greek omelettes sadly weren't an option).
It seemed to take forever to get our food, but at least we had a nice little table! They must have run out of bread, because our waitress disappeared right after we ordered and came back a few minutes later with a bag of bread. Seconds later, half a baguette was on our table. It doesn't get any fresher than that! They may have gone out back to get eggs from the chicken coop too with how long it took to get our omelettes
Our omelettes came with a nice little salad! The omelettes almost tasted like they were battered, or maybe they were just fried with a ton of oil, because there was a layer on the outside that reminded me of a fishfry or chicken french. It was different...
First stop was the Ancient Agora, which was essentially the downtown of ancient Athens, where people spent time debating, shopping, etc. Inside the museum in the Stoa of Attalos (a reconstructed arcade of shops), I found some ancient skewers...ancient souvlaki please!
Immediately, Athens reminds me of Rome. The Ancient Agora is not unlike the Roman Forum, where they have so many artifacts that they don't know what to do with them. Sadly, many things lay around the site without any kind of explanation of what you are looking at. Just a bunch of old stones in an unkempt garden. At the museum, there was literally a box that was labeled "Uncategorized Artifacts 2011".
One thing on the site that was very impressive was the Thisseion (aka Hephaisteion) which was build in 449 B.C. and is one of the world's best-preserved Greek temples. It was pretty amazing to see in almost fully intact considering the ruins around us.
We then headed uphill toward the Acropolis, walking along the scenic Apostolou Pavlou and Dionysiou Areopagitou, two streets lined with cafes with amazing views. On our way to the Acropolis, I somehow convinced Kristine to hike up the Areopagus (A huge hill with a great view of the Acropolis). Apparently ancient trials were held there. It was definitely worth it in my opinion, and I think she enjoyed it too.
After we paid our admission, we first saw the Theater of Herodes Atticus, where 5,000 people can still cram the marble benches to watch shows.
Next was the Theater of Dionysos. While it wasn't nearly as well restored, it was far more historically relevant as the first and oldest theater in Athens, where plays by Sophocles and other famous playwrights were performed for the first time.
After hiking up and down hills all day, Kristine was exhausted when we finally made it to the Propylaia, the monumental entranceway to the Acropolis, build in the 5th century B.C. We're definitely glad to be here in September, not only because the crowds are sparse, but also because its brutally hot and we can't imagine hiking all of these hills in the middle of the summer.
Everywhere we went, there were unleashed dogs laying around with no owners in sight, and the Acropolis was no exception. They literally did nothing but lay there and were totally unphased by the hundreds of tourists walking by. It was hard to tell whether they were strays or if their owners worked at the sights or what was going on.
Once we made our way up the steps of the Propylaia, we were immediately disappointed to see the Parthenon under restoration, much like the Leaning Tower of Pisa had been on our last trip. Getting a picture isn't quite the same. We were somewhat contented to be able to take decent pictures from the other side.
Also on the Acropolis was the Erechtheion, with its amazing Caryatids (the statues of women instead of columns). It wasn't until we went to the Acropolis museum afterward that we were unhappy to find out that these statues were replicas and the real ones were housed in the museum. The Erechtheion has some mythological significance, as it was said to house the physical evidence of the fight over Athens between Poseidon and Athena. Athena offered an olive tree (allegedly the first ever), while Poseidon was said to have struck his trident on a spot on the Acropolis, causing a spring to "gush forth."
On a completely unrelated note, as we searched for the Acropolis Museum, we saw a building with a pergola on its roof. A pergola is the structure with a completely useless roof that I nonetheless want in my backyard.
We both really enjoyed the museum and learned a lot (yes, we're both big nerds). Apparently, the massive walls of the Acropolis were fortified in the 13 century...B!C! Wow. Also, I learned that the Acropolis we see today was actually the second to be built on that site, the first of which was destroyed by the Persians in 480 B.C. I was also reminded that amazingly, the Parthenon was largely intact until 1687 when it was under siege by the Venetians and a cannonball blew up the gunpowder that was being stored inside. I say reminded, because believe it or not, I actually remembered learning that in 6th grade (although the details were admittedly fuzzy). After the museum, there was just enough daylight to catch Hadrian's arch and the Temple of Olympian Zeus. The guidebook, "Arthur," told us that Hadrian's arch separated the "old" city of Athens from the "new" Roman one. Inscribed on the old side is "This is Athens, once the city of Theseus" and on the new side was "This is Hadrians, and not Theseus's City." Sounds like somebody had a complex...Kristine and I got a chuckle out of that one. At the temple nearby, only a dozen or so of the columns remain standing, but they are pretty massive and were cool to see. For some reason, the Temple grounds were closed. By that point it was starting to get dark, so we wandered down Adrianou street-known for its shops and cafes-in search of the restaurant we had picked out of our guidebook.
The restaurant was cute..we got to sit outside and dinner was great! We ate around 9pm, which believe it or not is early in Greece. The restaurant didn't start filling up until around the "dinner hour" at 10pm! I had a tomato and cucumber salad, which was good but drenched in about a half inch of olive oil and a veal souvlaki! Kristine got grape leaves which are her favorite at Greek restaurants back home. She liked them until I told her that they were probably made of lamb. She also went outside her comfort zone and had a roasted chicken :-). We also had some local wine with dinner which was great! What was supposed to be a cheap dinner quickly added up but oh well, we're on vacation. Although dinner was great, we ended up wandering around afterward and finding a cute restaurant row on a stairway and wished we had found it sooner.
We were tired and more than a little jet lagged, so we called it an early night to go back and actually plan (gasp) the next few days of our trip. After Athens, it looks like we're going to rent a car to see Delphi, Olympia, Nafplion and Corinth before heading out to Santorini. Not sure if we'll go to another island after that. What we do in our second week is still up for debate!?!?!